Conviction S1E1 “Pilot” (Sky Living)

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convictionConviction is a brand new television series from ABC Studios, but the main problem is that you’ve seen pretty much exactly the same thing on TV hundreds of times before. Like a piece of pre-fab, flat-pack furniture, it’s been quickly and efficiently assembled but the result is a bland piece of furniture, one of thousands of identical units to be found in the corner of living rooms across the country. You can practically hear the show’s production team reading the instructions out loud which tell them to insert tab A into slot B to construct the show’s format.

If you want to know, the premise is as follows: brilliant defence attorney Hayes Morrison is appointed (somewhat against her will) to lead a ‘conviction integrity unit’ charged with investigating past prosecutions to insure that the right person is indeed in jail. For some completely arbitrary reason, the case of the week is allocated only five days which means that the show gets to artificially amp the tension with a ticking clock countdown before they are forced to move on.

Hayes is tetchy and rude, a legal genius with a self-destructive attitude and a drug problem – a watered-down Gregory House, if you will. Playing her is Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell who is quite the best thing in the show and certainly giving it her all in an effort to try and bring the character to life despite a painfully generic script.

Her cookie-cutter team consists of the nakedly ambitious Assistant District Attorney Sam Spencer (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men) who feels he should have been appointed boss of the CIU instead of Hayes; the straight-as-a-die former NYPD detective Maxine Bohen (Merrin Dungey, Alias); forensic technician and ex-con Franklin Cruz (Manny Montana); and inexperienced but eager paralegal Tess Larson (Emily Kinney). The team reports directly to New York County District Attorney Conner Wallace, played by CSI: New York’s Eddie Cahill, with whom Hayes inevitably has ‘a history’ as I believe it’s usually coyly put.

All this is really just window dressing for the same old police procedural, and Atwell seems especially wasted on such generic fodder – even more so considering her outstanding work in the Marvel Universe of late. It’s certainly very hard to get excited about any of it. There is one new wrinkle in that the character of Hayes is a former First Daughter whose mother is now running for the US Senate in her own right, but that is something so transparently ‘ripped from the headlines’ that it is hard not to roll one’s eyes at the concept. It feels nothing more that a halfhearted raid into Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal territory, albeit with only a fraction of that show’s high-octane outrageous ambition.

First episodes of new US series frequently suffer from ‘pilotitus’ as they try and crame in everything including the kitchen sink to get a network commission. To it’s credit, Conviction – created by Liz Friedlander and Liz Friedman and executive produced by Criminal Minds’ Mark Gordon – suffers from this malady much less than most new shows, but that is maybe because the series starts with so little fresh substance of note in the first place. It’s by no means offensively bad and is certainly watchable in the same way that it won’t hurt you to have to actually listen to muzak while riding in an elevator; but on the down side it feels slow, ponderous and dull, which for a pilot episode is surely a very bad sign indeed.

It certainly didn’t engage me and I doubt I’ll watch any more episodes unless there is literally nothing else on the schedule. I would be very surprised if this survives beyond its initial 13-part commission especially when much better shows are getting axed around it, and if it does then I’d say the entire credit will surely be down to the ever-divine Ms Atwell. Otherwise, I’m afraid it’s impossible to avoid concluding that Conviction simply lacks conviction.

Rating: ★ ★

Conviction airs in the UK on Wednesday nights on Sky Living at 9pm.

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